Seoul, South Korea
Friday started creakily. The instructor at BAF – I’m not sure if it’s “British army fitness” because they’re free of the BMF shackles at home, or just to make for the BAFIK acronym – had suggested ‘you’ll be sore in a couple of days, mate’, but it had kicked in straight away, and surely couldn’t be worse tomorrow. All those box jumps and bouncing up using the bridge balustrades for balance had done for my back, and dips and push ups added some subsidiary pain for my arms.
First, an errand. While my washing washed, I followed hostel Jimmy’s directions – this road, left, then keep going straight – and found my way first to Hongik University and then to the branch of Korea Post that, if you didn’t know to “keep gong straight”, you’d claim was a bit hidden away. It’s certainly not where I’d expect the local post office to be, but I was there so who cared? A box was 500 won, and after I’d packed it with ticket stubs, world championship souvenirs and a few other bits, I was ready with my guesstimate of 12000 won for surface mail. It was 5900. Not a rate I can see on their website for international postage but, always assuming it makes it, a bargain. Now my bags are a little lighter, and have fewer “ooh, I’ll keep that, it reminds me of…” things to keep making a decision about keeping.
I moved slowly, with no particular agenda, using my Yorkshire pass (T-money, it’s called) to move me round the city to Jamsil, exploring the Lotte department store there, and getting a little lost round the outside of theme park, Lotteworld. By now I’d realised that without concerted effort I wasn’t going to find a plain singlet to get the Seoul flyers logo imprinted on – it’s only 10k won, but an overnight service, and I’d used time up on it already. The sports sections of malls were a bit useless, all JJB sports (home of the non-exercise trainer and sportswear) in British terms. Near Dongdaemun there is a long strip of sport stalls in the underground mall, but all sell football and some baseball tops. Department stores have Asics, Puma, Descente and Coq Sportif concessions but with only t-shirt running gear. And an honourable mention to Nike, who appear to have somehow instructed their staff to follow closely on the heels of customers like me, which annoyed me so much when it was repeated in a second store that I arranged an inpromptu boycott of any others I came across. Not really the Korean/Japanese way of service, which is why it stood out.
After a run with a Canadian who joined me at the last “ooh, you’re going for a run-mind if I join you?” minute, which let my legs feel a little better by the end of the 5k local loop, on Friday evening I went for dinner with Swiss Marco, a Korea lover on his third visit, though with no great idea of where to go, just like me. I will admit I was going to get a takeaway pizza, but settled for Donbuki (sp?) which are cylindrical rice cakes, then a beer back at the hostel.
Marco was still jet lagged, and joined by German Max, who had topped off six months of bar work with a madcap two weeks travelling and fallen a bit ill, we were quite the sleep-in room by now. I was up a bit earlier on Saturday and at least got my run in first. Temperatures have dropped to the point where a run at midday is no longer foolhardy, and it is even cool when the sun goes down, and I passed a slow and painful five miles with the backdrop of the Han river, some Korean metal band playing to a relaxed audience sat in plastic chairs at garden tables, and plenty of other people exercising. I went off to the Olympic park stop to add another stadium to the list of those I’ve seen, only to find that the station is at the far end of the park from the stadium, and the stadium isn’t in the park anyway. Word to the wise, Chamsil stadium is next to the baseball stadium, at the Sports Complex stop (line 2). I got to see the gymnastics and handball arenas, along with the velodrome, on the way through, caught a tiny bit of a folk festival and then some classical outside the Olympic museum. It’s small but perfectly formed, the museum, with Korea’s first medallist-a marathoner, perfect-heavily featured. I also had a Korean give me his politics intro, fairly sure the Japanese were dirty, Iran, Iraq, North Korea all not good, along with others. But if you can’t understand it, it might not be racism, right?
The walk along Olympic-ro is festooned with statues, discus, weightlifter, cyclists and so on, and pretty cool, as is the park itself which was a hive of activity. I got back to the hostel in time for the Korean barbecue my hosts had promised, though Marco and Sue Yung were waiting and hungry, so possibly I was late for whatever time had been set. It didn’t matter, Grace and Jimmy had been to a wedding and though they only take an hour in Korea, with no evening do and joint meals for all the weddings there that day, they’d got stuck in traffic and arrived after me.
The barbecue is cooked on a grill at the table-mostly by Grace, in our case – then you dip meat in various sauces, wrap it in a lettuce leaf and eat, along with rice, mushroom, onion etc to taste. Good, anyway, as was the soju (sp!) which tastes very alcoholic but isn’t actually as potent as all that.
So marked my last day in Seoul. Most evenings at the lovely Mr Comma guesthouse were punctuated by Sue’s swishing of the electric mosquito killer-racquet, but she had moved out to sort out packing, so it was quiet on Friday night. Seoul is a mighty city, with a mighty river, and masses to do, even if I did include ‘get lost’ a bit too prominently at the top of my list.
Next time, perhaps, I’ll have more luck. Reading: A spell for chameleon, Piers Anthony.